BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Reviewing fire risk assessments

A recent RICS Regulation case highlights why managing agents must review fire risk assessments

Author: Gary Strong

13 September 2019

It is important to draw attention to the requirement in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for managing agents to commission a fire risk assessment (FRA) and to review and implement any of its recommendations. This is not only to ensure that they comply with current legislation, but that the buildings they manage have been assessed for fire risk and, where practical, safety measures have been improved. The greatest risk to life still remains in tall and complex buildings, particularly those where people sleep.

A recent case is worth highlighting. RICS Regulation has just imposed sanctions – comprising a reprimand, a substantial fine and an order for costs – on a firm that had not properly reviewed an FRA and ensured the building was safe. As a result, someone had unfortunately died in a fire, and there was a court conviction.

It is imperative that commissioning an FRA is not just seen as another tick-box exercise. Once received, this assessment has to be reviewed in the light of knowledge of the building and the type of occupants – particularly if they are elderly or infirm – and its recommendations followed up.

RICS has previously highlighted the need to commission appropriately qualified fire risk assessors who belong to an accreditation scheme, such as that run by the Institution of Fire Engineers. In the light of the Hackitt review, reforms with regard to assessing competency are expected in the next year or two; but in the meantime managing agents must ensure the following.

  • The qualifications and experience of the fire risk assessor are carefully scrutinised and are appropriate for the type of building. Due diligence enquiries are expected.
  • Once received, the FRA is reviewed as discussed above, and questions are asked if something does not appear correct.
  • The FRA recommendations are put in place. This is not about minimum compliance: when it comes to fire safety, professionals need to try to improve existing buildings wherever possible, and you won't be thanked for doing the minimum. Existing buildings are where the real problem lies, as fire safety protection can often be totally inadequate.
  • Existing active protection measures such as fire alarms, magnetic door holders, automatic smoke vents, emergency lighting, dry risers, fire alarm control panels and sprinklers, must be checked to make sure they have been regularly inspected and certified as in good working order.
  • Specialist contractors should be appointed to carry out the recommendations in the FRA, as well as any recommendations by other specialist professionals.
  • Agents must also follow up the commissioned works to check they have been properly installed and inspected.
  • Agents should carry out an inspection annually, or possibly more frequently for high-risk buildings such as taller or more complex residential premises.
  • A new FRA should be commissioned at least every five years regardless, because the building and its occupancy profile can change significantly in this period. For high-risk buildings, we recommend an annual FRA.

"The greatest risk to life remains in tall and complex buildings, particularly where people sleep"

RICS has been taking a lead on improvements in fire safety after Grenfell Tower: this is an issue where the reputation of the profession is at stake.

Gary Strong FRICS is RICS global building standards director gstrong@rics.org

Related competencies include: Fire safety

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